THE TWIN CITIES are a beer loving pair of towns, and us cocktail drinkers just have to get used to it. Perhaps it's the lingering influence of Minneapolis's once enormous German population, as Germans are famously a beer loving people. Perhaps it is the fact that so many bars are just one step above a dive, serving bottom shelf liquor and aging, stale mixers, and you just can't get a good cocktail in that sort of environment, but if the taps are clean and the kegs are recent, it's hard to go wrong with beer. Perhaps it's that Twin Citians are thrifty, or stingy, and won't pay a half-sawbuck for giggle juice when they can pay a buck for a brewski.
Whatever the case, when locals turn alcohol snobby, they turn to beer first. We at The Bottle Gang love beer, but we're drinkers, god damn it, and view beer as little more than an adult soft drink, a refresher on a hot summer day, a chaser for a real cocktail. But we respect the skilled brewmaster, and respect a well-made beer, and appreciate the fact that so many Minnesotans have a taste for a good beer. It tells you a lot about the Twin Cities' relationship with beer that, when the Town Hall Brewery introduces their maibock, they bring in a Episcopalian vicar in a red and blue dalmatic and red sneakers to bless the stuff.
The Town Hall Brewery is relatively spacious -- it is a former comedy theater, although the current owners have taken great pains to antique it, covering the walls in old photographs of enormous beer casks, with proud brewers posing alongside and atop them. But today, Saturday, the pub is crowded beyond capacity, drinkers standing behind each other at the bar, two and three deep. A group has pushed several tables together, and they all wear t-shirts identifying themselves as Hash House Harriers, who make a regular habit of running together, then stopping off in bars and drinking together. As is their tendency, they drink, and then drink some more, and then rise to their feet, raise their cups, and sing songs about drinking.
In the meanwhile, the staff is desperately trying to get maibock into everybody's hands before the ceremony begins, which will be soon, if the vicar wandering around swinging a incense censer is any indication. The maibock is foamy and dark and nutty and bitter. It's also free, which may help explain the throng of people that even now continues to pack the bar; one exceptionally small and stout man begs a young woman to give up her chair, so he can stand on it, because he can't see.
The vicar takes his place under a photograph of an oversized cask, again with proud brewers scampering atop it, and launches into his ceremonial duties, which include reading from classic literature and a call and response section, where he beseeches heaven to prevent us from such untoward behavior as thinking ourselves clever after a few drinks, when, in fact, we actually are starting to sound like idiots. With each of his entreaties, the multitude chant back, tunelessly, that they too would like heaven to save us from this, particularly when the vicar's pleas include protection from having cars towed or spending the night in jail. At the end of the blessing, all the assembled raise their glasses in toast, as the vicar reminds us that Jesus himself did not avoid the drinker, despite the possibility that he might be considered a drunkard himself. (SPARBER)